Dobrev plays the lead, Clem, whose life is turned upside-down when her train-wreck of a little sister comes to stay with her and her fiancée, threatening to spill all the details of Clem's party girl past and turbulent family history. This half-hour sitcom is good for a laugh (and some pretty sincere family feels), but it also marks Dobrev's first return to TV since she exited The Vampire Diaries at the end of its sixth season in 2015.
TV Guide sat down with Dobrev to talk about why now was the right time for her to return to TV and why she's leaning more heavily into comedies than dramas these days.
Getting back into television is kind of a big deal, what was it about Fam that made you want to return?
Dobrev: Well, I was not looking to do TV. It wasn't on my radar, to be honest with you. But when the opportunity came up, I read the script, I loved the story, loved the character, had never done a sitcom before, was a huge fan of Friends. I loved watching Friends in the '90s and growing up, but had never really watched it with a critical eye and thought about how that show was done. I didn't realize it was in front of a live audience, and then when I heard that, it scared me, which then obviously propelled me to say yes, because I love doing things that make me uncomfortable, and in turn, hopefully drive me to learn and grow and challenge me. So it felt like it was a perfect storm.
And how has it been different, this experience from other shows that you've done before?
Dobrev: It's so different. It's unlike anything I've done up until this point. We shoot in front of a live audience. There's 300 people when we shoot. You rehearse every week for a few days, and then you put on almost like a little play. You get a new script every week, and it keeps you on your toes. It's thrilling and there's a rush. The audience will either laugh or they won't, so you know immediately if a joke lands or if it doesn't or if it's not working. And as a result, the writers will sit on set... and if a joke doesn't land, or if they think of something in the moment that might be funnier, they'll fly in a new joke or a new line. And so the script is constantly changing up until even the night of shooting.
And, I don't know, it's really exciting and it's really fun to get that instant gratification and hear that laughter and get that reaction. I've had a really great time exploring this character and working with this new family, 'cause I really do feel like it's appropriately called Fam, because we really have become a family and we're all really close.
Being your first sitcom, have you had to learn as you go while filming this first season?
Dobrev: I'm so lucky that on my first sitcom I have the opportunity to work with such seasoned "sitcommers," — it's what I call them. I don't even think that's a real word, but I'm inventing it now. It's great. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Tone [Bell] have all been on so many sitcoms, and they're so talented, and so... they're veterans, if you will. They took me under their wing, and they've taught me so much and have been very supportive along this way... and very patient, I'm sure. I'm sure I must be really frustrating or annoying to work with. Odessa [Adlon] and I are both newbies, and very green in the sitcom world. So, we've definitely tried to rise to the occasion and meet their level of professionalism and talent, but who knows, [I] probably have a ways to go.
You've been doing a lot of comedy lately, so is there something that draws you to comedy more than drama, or does it all go hand in hand?
Dobrev: I think they go hand in hand, and yet they are so different. I like doing both. I like a balance of anything. I mean, succeeding in life is finding that balance, in any area of life. But in this one in particular, whenever I do a comedy, I want to do a drama to counteract it, and vice versa. But if I had to choose, I feel like I would gravitate towards comedies, because who doesn't like to laugh, you know? I did six years on a show that was very serious, for the most part. Not all the time, but was more serious than not, and it's been a nice change to laugh all day, every day, and keep working on deepening these laugh lines.
Dobrev: I feel like she's got a bit of duality, and I know that sounds weird and maybe not great, but she was a different person before she met Nick. I don't want to say that he changed her, but meeting him inspired her to change and grow and be a better person. She used to be a party girl and a bit of a train wreck, hot mess, who is now reformed and is trying to get away from her old days and her old habits that weren't necessarily the most healthy choices. As a result, she's now become like a stepmom to her little sister, who constantly calls her old and boring. So she's trying to find a balance between being a cool young-mom-slash-older-sister-figure-slash-still-a-young-person who's about to get married and is still learning about her relationship and herself and who she is.
You and Tone Bell have amazing chemistry right off the bat. Did that just naturally come about or did you guys have to work to get it there?
Dobrev: Tone and I met when we shot Dog Days, and we immediately clicked. I mean, he is so funny and so talented and so sweet. He's a stand-up comedian, first and foremost, and I've seen him on stage and he lights up the stage and he's so great. I think Dog Days was his first feature, so because I had been doing [movies] a lot more, he was looking to me for advice and asking me questions, and I kind of took him under my wing on that one. Then when we did the sitcom, I remember he called me and was like, "What are you thinking? Do you think you're going to do it? Should we do this together?" And I was like, "Yeah, I want to, but I've never done this before. I'm kind of scared. I've never been in front of a live audience. I don't know how this works." And he was like, "I got you, girl. I'll have your back no matter what." And he really has. I've learned so much from him and I trust him. That's one of the main things that are important to me, whenever I do a project; to trust your co-stars and to feel like you're a team. We really are a great team on set. So it's been a treat to get to work with him again.
Does Clem and Shannon's sibling relationship mirror your own sibling relationship in real life?
Dobrev: Kind of but in reverse! My older brother from talking to him has told me that I was an annoying little brat. Kind of like Odessa is on the show to me. And we do have a bit of a banter. We'll pull pranks on each other on set, and it feels very much like she's my little sister in many ways... In fact, all the actors, I feel like I'm constantly fighting from breaking character and not laughing. And I have laughed a couple times and ruined a take. That's how you know that something's working, when you can't even keep your sh-- together.
Fam premieres Thursday, Jan. 10 at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.
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